Like rings on a tree, the rings of toys on the kitchen floor can tell you a child’s age. At three months, your floors are spotless. The counters are wiped, aside from a stray coffee ring next to the always-on coffee pot. The baby is playing happily in her bouncer, and you are singing children’s songs while washing dishes. Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way, but after you experience a few more months, you’ll begin to imagine it was that way.
By five months, there is a Bumbo in the middle of the floor. A set of Fisher Price keys, a rattling toy, and a soft, crunchy book can be found in a circle around it. You are now washing a dish, wiping your hands on the towel, picking up a toy, and giving it back to your smiling baby. You turn around and begin washing another dish as you feel those plastic keys hit your foot. You wipe your hands, return the toy, wash a dish.
By nine months, the baby is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by the shape sorter, three different-sized balls, a Little People playset, the walker you are encouraging her to start using, a set of toy musical instruments, four baby dolls, and a set of measuring cups you thought might help entertain her. The toys make a perfect circle around your precious child as she picks up each one for precisely one minute and then throws it down in boredom. You are now singing, with a little more speed to your tempo, thinking about how one might accomplish washing a dish with one hand, while clapping the tempo on your leg and using your foot to pick up a toy and push it back to your poor attention-deprived baby. Inevitably, she ends up in the pots and pans, pulling out each one with a startling crash.
By twelve months, she has become fully mobile — perhaps not walking yet but definitely able to keep up with the best of those crawling. The kitchen now holds 80% of the toys that belong in the playroom. The perfect circle is a more modern-looking series of circles that create a wall along the perimeter. The last line of defense to keep her from escaping. You are now looking at a line of dishes that have been patiently waiting for you all week. After creating a new voice for the troll doll that has your baby captivated, you think you can start working down that line. You turn, pick up a dish, and hear the pitter-patter of tiny legs going straight for the stairs.
And so I find myself here.
Yes, Maddie has discovered the stairs. More and more, I have learned that Maddie has a natural sense for adventure and a sense of humor to go with it. I fear she may be the child who will grow up and think jumping out of a plane is fun. Two weeks into her thirteenth month, she has discovered and fully embraced the fun of scaring people. She waits patiently for me to turn my back to that line of dishes, then makes a mad, one-legged crawling dash to the stairs. She will wait at the first stair until she hears me say, “Maddie, you know you aren’t supposed to be climbing the stairs by yourself!” and begin coming after her. She then climbs to the second stair, stands up, holds onto the rails, and waits. I come around the corner and approach the rails. “Mad–” Before I can finish her name, she uses her whole body to scream, “AHHHHH!” I jump and pretend to be frightened. She belly laughs. “You scared me!” I exclaim as I pick her up and bring her safely back to the kitchen. She is delighted with herself and waits patiently for me to turn so that we can repeat the game.
I would lament the change of my not-so-clean house to my we’re-using-paper-plates-now house if the game weren’t so much fun.
Lessons Learned: Buy more safety gates, enjoy it all, find solace in the fact that Apple will likely someday invent a self-cleaning dish app (the iDish), and begin researching how to appease adrenaline junkies without jumping out of a plane.